Can the Chimp Get the Grape?

  • Posted 02.19.08
  • NOVA

Chimps that watch how other chimps retrieve a grape from a trick box can pick up the skill. But researcher Lydia Hopper wanted to see whether chimps could learn the same skill after seeing the trick box opened by a ghostly, invisible thread.

Running Time: 01:43

This feature originally appeared on the site for the NOVA program Ape Genius.


Can the Chimp Get the Grape?

Posted February 19, 2008

NARRATOR: A new test of apes' copying skills is about to take place at the Keeling Center in Bastrop, Texas. Lydia Hopper knows that one chimp can learn to operate this tricked-out grape dispenser by watching another.

Hopper wants to figure out just how much an observer needs to see to get the technique. She uses a nearly invisible line to raise the handle. The chimp is being given the mechanical answer. Does he get it?

LYDIA HOPPER: I make sure that Adonis is oriented towards the window every time I cause the T-bar to rise.

I gave the chimpanzee over 200 demonstrations of this. The chimpanzee watched intently, it saw the grapes coming out. It was obviously very excited. It was making food grunts.

I then give him the tools so that he can have a go at it himself. Again, just as a reminder to Adonis, I show him the grape. He's clearly interested in the grape. I put it in the device and let him have a go.

And it did nothing. And in fact of all the chimpanzees I've given this form of demonstration to, none of them were able to solve the task, which I find astounding.



©2008 NGHT, Inc. and WGBH Educational Foundation

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